Review Four-Fer: Jazz Albums For Kids and Families

A while back, I wondered, "why are there not more great jazz albums for kids?" I could have substituted the word "good" for "great" and it still would have been a legitimate question. Still, the kids music jazz subgenre has picked up some steam since I wrote those words and with the recent appearance of a definitely great jazz album for kids, I thought it worthwhile to highlight some other new disks worth further exploration if you're looking to broaden the jazz section on your family's CD shelf (or whatever the iPod equivalent of that is).

JazzSwingForKids.jpgThirty Tigers' Jazz and Swing For Kids applies a big band (or at least one that approaches double digits) to 10 familiar kids' tunes. A glance at some of the titles, however, shows that they're mixing things up a little bit -- "Diddle Diddle Swing," for example, or the "Old MacDonald Jazz Remix" (a boogie-woogie which throws in a snippet of "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" for good measure). Strong vocals ("Here Comes the Rain Itsy" gets turned into a Little Richard rave-up) and a sense of playfulness are the strong points on this 33-minute CD.

JazzBaby.jpgThe Doug Beavers Rovira Jazz Orchestra's Jazz, Baby! is, in many ways, a similar album. All 10 songs here are traditional ("Twinkle Twinkle," "Shortnin' Bread," "Working' On the Railroad"), and the vocals take center stage. If there is any difference it's that the arrangements are stronger, with strong versions of "Twinkle Twinkle" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider" that take full-advantage of a 20+ member big band being two highlights. "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" is done in a fun cha-cha style. It's a polished recording, and while it's not targeted at adult listeners, those listeners who listen with their kids certainly won't begrudge time spent in its company. (Listen to several tracks from the 33-minute album here.)

While those two CDs certainly have much to recommend them, by sticking to traditional and familiar early childhood songs, they don't necessarily lend themselves to repeated listening over a long period of time -- they're CDs you might dip into occasionally.

Are there CDs worth more than an occasional dip? Well...
BabyLovesJazzGHVol1_2.jpgBaby Loves Jazz's latest CD, Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 & 2 certainly has its fair share of the standard childhood classics -- "Wheels On the Bus," "Skip To My Lou," and "Old Macdonald," to name a few. And its animated characters -- "Duck Ellington" (groan) or "Ella Elephant," for example -- clearly show who the CD is targeted at. But the album has more than its fair share of originals. Take the loopy "Blue Lemurs," a snappy little tune with piano accompaniment and the ear-wormy lyrics, "I like blue lemurs / And I don't know why." Or "Makes Me Want to Skat" and "We're a Band," which features "Ella Elephant," or, as we call her in the real world, Sharon Jones (of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings), who scats up a storm. Whether original or traditional, the music from the small jazz combo backing the vocalists is top-notch.

At 46 tracks and nearly 90 minutes in length, this two-CD set is almost too long (I wonder if the original CD/book combos from which the tracks were selected might not be better introductions). But that length also provides a tremendous variety of styles to choose from, from the rap-jazz of "Duck Jam" to the slower album closer "Itsy Bitsy Spider." I would be surprised if any family couldn't find at least 30 minutes of music they'd want to hear many times over. (Listen to samples and download some tracks here and here.)

SwinginInDaddyland.jpgFinally, there's a possibility that Swingin' in Daddyland, the second foray into kids and family music from Vermont's Lewis Franco piqued my attention as I listened to all these jazz CDs precisely because it sounded different. And that could be true. But this CD, which features Franco and a 3-man band called The Missing Cats, swings in a relaxed way. Franco and his band play a lot of gypsy swing jazz tunes ("Swing 42," which sets Franco's original lyrics to an old Django Reinhardt tune, is a good example) but isn't afraid of different styles, such as the Western swing on "Stomp Stomp" or even the not-very-jazzy but lots of fun roots-rocker "Annabelle."

I came to think of Franco as a jazz version of Brady Rymer, who often takes as his subject family life, from both the child and parental perspective. His lyrics, especially "Have You Looked?," about a father who answers repeated questions from his daughter about where lost objects might be, deal with both perspectives with understanding and heart. You can listen to samples and a couple full tracks here. While this is definitely a jazz album, Swingin' in Daddyland I think would have broad appeal beyond those looking for just a "jazz album" -- it's my favorite of the four good albums here and is definitely recommended.